By Bethany Blankley

The Harris County Republican Party and five other plaintiffs asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene in a case against Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins. In a new petition filed with the court, they claim that private investigators have uncovered an illegal ballot harvesting operation in Harris County.

Chief investigators Mark A. Aguirre, a retired Houston Police Department captain, and former FBI agent Charles Marler submitted affidavits under oath describing witness testimony and evidence they say they have collected about ballot harvesting operations in Harris County. They allege by name a Biden-Harris campaign official, and local officials, including Hollins, as being behind the operations.

Houston-based attorney Jared Woodfill filed the petition with the state Supreme Court on Monday. It requests that Hollins not be allowed to receive in-person delivery of marked ballots until Election Day, Nov. 3, and only at the early voting clerk’s office at 201 Caroline St., Houston, Texas.

Hollins, a Democrat, is prepared to start accepting in-person marked ballots at any of 11 annexes in Harris County where no poll watchers or election judges are present, contrary to state law, the petition alleges.

The court petition states that investigators have identified political consultant Dallas Jones, hired by the Joe Biden for President campaign to oversee its Harris County initiative, District 13 Texas state Sen. Borris Miles, political consultant Gerald Womack, and Precinct 1 Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis as being involved in the alleged scheme.

Miles and Ellis denied the allegations in comments to the Texas Tribune.

“I don’t do that, I don’t have a team that does that, and I’ve never had somebody else’s mail ballot in my hands,” Miles told the Tribune.

Woodfill has previously filed several lawsuits with the State Supreme Court related to election integrity in Texas and in Harris County.

“Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins and Governor Greg Abbott have worked together to use the Texas Disaster Act to suspend the Texas Election Code,” Woodfill told The Center Square. As a result of the governor’s actions, he adds, “ballot harvesting appears to be front and center in Harris County.”

Ballot harvesting is the gathering and submitting of completed absentee or mail-in voter ballots by third-party individuals, volunteers or workers, instead of by the voters directly submitting ballots to collection sites themselves. Voting by mail and voter applications related to mail-in ballots lack the protections that voting in person provides, both Republicans and Democrats argue.

“Mail-in ballot application can be completed by others, sometimes with false information," Chuck DeVore at the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) wrote in a post on the foundation's website. "Ballots, when they arrive in the mail, can be intercepted by political operators or delivered in person to annexes where there are no safeguards to guarantee that the person turning in the application is the voter. In some cases, large-scale fraud can take place where, through nominal gifts of food or alcohol, voter intimidation, or deception, a professional ballot harvester can simply substitute his vote for the voter’s and turn in the ballot.”

The investigators allege they have evidence of ballot harvesters taking absentee ballots from the elderly in nursing homes, from the homeless, and from unsuspecting residences’ mailboxes and casting votes on their behalf. According to the investigators, ballot harvesters sign and fill out the ballots, in these cases, solely for Democratic candidates.

The investigators claim two individuals employed in Hollins’ office receive the ballots and help facilitate the voting. They then mask the processing of the ballots into the legal stream of ballots, the petition alleges.

The investigators also claim that a witness said Commissioner Ellis’ employee was bragging that he could guarantee that the ballot harvesting operation, with the help of mass mail-in ballots, could return roughly 700,000 harvested ballots in favor of Democrats.

"I’m not surprised that Trump, Hotze and others are using all the dirty voter suppression tricks they can to undermine our elections and democratic process," Ellis told the Texas Tribune. "I’m proud our County Clerk is working to ensure Harris County voters have the opportunity to vote safely and securely during this global pandemic, despite these partisan attacks."

The petition with the state’s highest court comes after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced last week that 134 felony voter fraud charges were brought against four Democratic operatives and officials in Gregg County in connection with the 2018 Democratic primary election.

“It is an unfortunate reality that elections can be stolen outright by mail ballot fraud,” Paxton said in a statement. “Election fraud, particularly an organized mail ballot fraud scheme orchestrated by political operatives, is an affront to democracy and results in voter disenfranchisement and corruption at the highest level.”

Gregg County Commissioner Shannon Brown, his wife Marlena Jackson, and political associates Charlie Burns and DeWayne Ward face a total of 134 felony charges. Allegations include election fraud, tampering with a governmental record, mail-in ballot fraud, among others.

In 2019, the Attorney General’s Office identifed roughly 95,000 noncitizens on voter registration lists in Texas. At the time, his office was actively prosecuting 75 cases of voter fraud. Since 2004, the Attorney General’s Office has prosecuted more than 450 election fraud offenses.

Democratic District Attorney Omar Escobar of Starr, Duval, and Jim Hogg counties, has been actively prosecuting illegal voter schemes along the southern border. In a TPPF video, he describes election fraud methods used by politiqueras in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Mail-in is only part of the problem,” Escobar says. “At some point, the ‘mail-in mafia’ will begin to diminish, and you’re going to start to see more of this other kind of fraud happen, where people are getting assisted who don’t need assistance, in the polling location.”

Prosecuting fraud cases are difficult without the necessary resources, Escobar says, adding, “Texas does not have the resources at all to handle election fraud.”

In the Texas 84th, 85th, and 86th legislative sessions, bills were introduced to address election integrity and voter fraud.

Escobar testified in favor of mail ballot and voter assistance reforms included in the 2017 Senate Bill 9, and asked lawmakers to add an enforcement provision allowing authorities to proactively prevent fraud. The bill went nowhere.

The Texas Legislature did pass 2017 Senate Bill 5, which tightened mail-in ballot rules and increased criminal penalties for ballot fraud.

“But just because a law was passed in Texas does not mean the practice of illegal ballot harvesting has ended or has even been curtailed,” Woodfill argues.

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